Lilongwe, Malawi - Former Malawi Justice Minister Raphael Kasambara and the Principal Secretary in the Office of the President and Cabinet, Joster Njanji, have been arrested following ongoing investigations into how millions of dollars were allegedly looted dubious deals. 'We have today, the 27th of January 2014, arrested Mr. Raphael Kasambara on money laundering offences,' said police spokesperson Rhoda Manjolo.
The arrest of Kasambara, one of Malawi flamboyant lawyers, was not without drama. At least five vehicles laden with armed police officers arrived at his resident in the low-density Area 10 suburb in the capital, Lilongwe, at around 5.30am.
He refused to open for them, saying he was still sleeping. When he finally met them at 7.30am he refused to sign the warrant of arrest because it bore wrong names.
'The warrant of arrest they brought was for Ralph Kasambara. It was misdirected for I am not Ralph Kasambara, I'm Raphael Kasambara,' he told PANA as he was being taken to the National Police headquarters for interrogations.
The police had to go back to the Lilongwe Chief Resident Magistrates’ Court to have the warrant amended to read 'Raphael Kasambara'.
Particulars of the warrant of arrest, which PANA cited, indicate that some 55 million Malawi kwacha (about US$ 120,000) from Oswald Lutepo, a businessman, who is a key suspect in the cashgate, and Pika Manondo, in jail in connection for the shooting of Budget Director Paul Mphwiyo, went through his law firm - Ralph and Arnolds - in July 2013.
Investigators suspect these monies were proceeds from the cashgate. But Kasambara denied this, saying Ralph and Arnolds were acting as witnesses for a house sale between Lutepo and Manondo.
'Besides, in July last year I was Justice Minister and I had delinked myself from Ralph and Arnolds,' he said.
Justice Minister Fahad Assani also confirmed that Kasambara and Njanji were arrested in connection with the 'cashgate' investigations.
'The two have been arrested over payments they made or received for goods and services not rendered to government,' he said.
Njanji, who was the Head of Finance in President Joyce Banda's office, was suspended from duty following revelations that he presided over the alleged looting of government money in the President's office.
Kasambara was also arrested earlier over the 13 September shooting of Mphwiyo which opened a can of worms on how civil servants, politicians and businessmen colluded to loot government money.
This led to suspension of over US$ 150 million in donor aid to the southern African country, 40 percent of whose budget depends on donor aid.
Banda, Malawi first female president, dissolved her cabinet in October last year in the wake of the looting and later fired Finance Minister Ken Lipenga and Kasambara.
Lipenga has not been charged with anything.
An interim forensic audit, led by British forensic experts, that has since been submitted to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has so far verified that up to 9 billion Malawi kwacha (over US$ 20 million) was looted by infiltration into a government payment system.
Civil servants with access to the Integrated Financial Management Information System (Ifmis) made fake payments to associates' companies for goods and services not rendered to government and later deleted the records.
Up to US$ 100 million may have been pilfered in this way, according to the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Finance Intelligence Unit and the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the state departments working with the police to get to the bottom of the unprecedented government looting, the worst financial scandal since Malawi became independent from Britain in 1964.
So far, 68 people, including politicians, civil servants and businessmen, have been arrested and charged with theft, fraud, money laundering and corruption.
Meanwhile, the massive trial of the scandal, dubbed 'cashgate' by the media, is scheduled to start on Wednesday.
Director of Public Prosecutions Bruno Kalemba said special courts have been created to deal with the cases.
'This is unprecedented so we had to make special arrangements to move judges from Blantyre and Mzuzu to Lilongwe,' he said.
Information Minister Brown Mpinganjira, who described 'cashgate' as a 'national disaster', said government has set aside 65 million Malawi kwacha (about US$ 140,000) as 'seed money' for the trial.
'The agencies investigating and prosecuting the cashgate (the police, the Directorate of Public Prosecutions, the Finance Intelligence Unit and the Anti-Corruption Bureau) asked for extra resources to deal with this,' he said.